It’s tough to make sense of David Peterson’s year here in 2023. Penciled in to be a depth starter before the season started, Peterson was pressed into duty right away due to the injuries suffered by Jose Quintana and Justin Verlander. And, quite simply, he was awful. Peterson made eight starts before he was sent to the minors and the Mets lost seven of those, as he had an 8.08 ERA and allowed 8 HR in 39 IP. It was a far cry from 2022, when Peterson notched a 3.83 ERA and the Mets won 12 of his 19 starts.
Since he returned from the minors, Peterson has pitched much better than in his first go-round in 2023. In 49.1 IP, he has a 3.28 ERA. But six of his 15 appearances have been out of the pen in this stretch and when he’s started, Peterson has pitched into the fifth inning just three times in nine games. However, the latter isn’t all his fault. The Mets didn’t do a good job of stretching him out to return to starting and Buck Showalter has had a quick hook with him, apparently eager to go to his rotten bullpen at the first available chance.
You would hope that a first-round pick would have established himself in the majors in his fourth year in the bigs. But it’s not the case here with Peterson and it’s an open question if he can be a starter or if he should be moved to the bullpen and essentially replace Trevor Williams as a long man. The Mets certainly need someone to fill that role and it wouldn’t be a failure if that’s where Peterson found himself. Still, life is easier for the Mets if he’s a starting pitcher, one on the team and in the rotation on Opening Day due to talent, rather than injuries.
But let’s take a minute to see where Peterson fits in among his peers here in 2023. He’s made 17 starts this season and he’s one of just 123 pitchers in MLB this year to reach that mark. Considering that he spent six weeks in the minors and another four weeks in the majors in the pen, that’s not too shabby. Of course, he hasn’t been very good in the majority of those innings as a starter. Peterson has a 5.71 ERA in 80.1 IP as a SP.
There have been 136 pitchers to log at least 70 IP as a starter this season. Peterson’s 5.71 ERA as a starter ranks 123rd. We think of a 5.71 ERA as being awful. But in the context of this year, it makes him a high-end SP5. In a season where he’s left a lot to be desired, Peterson has been good enough from an innings and ERA perspective to be in a club’s starting five.
Of course, most clubs’ fifth starters are in a near-constant state of flux, due to injuries and lack of production. Just using the Mets as an example, Carlos Carrasco was assumed to be the club’s fifth starter yet he’s made the third-most starts on the club. And the Mets have had 10 different pitchers start a game for them this season. Given the injuries, the trades and ineffectiveness of certain starters, it’s a surprise that there haven’t been more. But it just goes to show that it’s not easy to say who, or what, is a fifth starter.
Peterson might get five more starts this year, as the Mets have 25 games remaining in the season. What does he have to do here in those remaining games to give the team’s brass the confidence to make him their fifth starter in 2024? Things will be a lot better if the Mets only have to acquire two starters in the offseason rather than three.
Let’s assume he makes five starts. My preference would be to see at least 25 IP, with a sub-4.00 ERA from him in this span. Furthermore, it would be nice to see a sub-1.0 HR/9 and a sub-3.8 BB/9, too. We know that Peterson is going to give up hits, as he simply doesn’t have overpowering stuff. But it’s my belief that his stuff is good enough to win, if he limits his walks and homers. Currently, he has a 1.43 HR/9 and a 4.18 BB/9 overall this season.
No doubt that some of you are thinking the benchmarks laid out in the previous graph are not very good and shouldn’t be tough to meet. But we’ve got to stop thinking about some long-ago time, one that essentially never existed, where every single club had five starters who were durable and highly productive. Rather, in all likelihood, your fifth starter is going to be someone whose best attribute is that he doesn’t get knocked out by the end of the fourth inning in the great majority of his starts.
Carrasco’s results have been horrible this year and just as bad is that he’s had early exits, too. He completed four innings or fewer in eight of his 20 starts and had three more where he was knocked out before completing five innings. Essentially, it’s been a coin flip if he’s been able to go five full innings. So far this year, Peterson’s gone five innings or more in nine of his 17 starts. It would be nice if he finished the year above the coin-flip territory in this regard.
In a perfect world, Peterson would be the long man/spot starter for the club. But if this year has taught us anything, it’s that the Mets don’t exist in a perfect world. It seems some believe the Mets will carry the same Opening Day payroll next year that they did in 2023. And if that turns out to be the case, then Peterson won’t be in the rotation. But my reading of the tea leaves foretells a different story, one with a payroll far from what it was at the start of this season. Time will tell. In the meantime, here’s hoping Peterson gives both quantity and quality innings in his remaining starts to give hope that his early-season woes are behind him.